“Bad neighbors are pests, good ones a blessing. A good neighbor is a boon to him who has one. If your neighbor is honest, your ox is safe.” Hesiod, Works and Days
We would do well to think in terms of neighbors: who they are, and how to be one.
There are many things that Hesiod might have said in honor of a good neighbor, or in condemnation of a bad one. In ancient Greece an ox was the central instrument for working the land–especially in households that did not have slaves. In a word, the ox was indispensable to the life of the household.
And with good neighbors, your ox is safe. Safe not only from disappearing, your ox is practically assured of good health and long life. Help and support, yeah even perhaps a replacement, are always close at hand–just as a neighbor himself is always close at hand, as the very word ‘neighbor’ means. Hesiod thought of neighbors as a pivotal part of life. An unsafe ox means an unstable household, and life.
It’s hard these days to know how to think in terms of neighbors. Our living conditions tend to be transient and ill-arranged for real contact with those where we live. Similarly those with whom we work often do not live near us. In both cases our limited contact makes it difficult to live as true neighbors.
Being neighbors and being friends are not the same thing. But they have much in common, especially in what they demand of us. Being a neighbor requires acting like a friend, even toward one who is not a friend.
Good neighbors are a blessing, and it is incumbent on us to seek and cultivate neighborly relationships. Indeed it is within our reach to be this unique blessing, rather than the opposite, to those among whom live.
Photo credit: Unknown; I couldn’t resist it.
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